More breakthroughs to protect nurses – April 2006

Iemma moves to protect public hospital nurses but we can`t be complacent.

The state government’s decision to transfer NSW public hospital nurses into government employees, a move which will shield them from the Howard government’s workplace changes, is a genuine reason for celebration (see story page 14).

There is a gentle irony here. Nurses have had to fight hard with the Labor government, as their employer, to get decent pay and conditions and recognition of their workloads. Inevitably this creates friction for both parties. To be fair, the government has many balls to juggle within the funding constraints imposed on them by the federal government.

The toxic industrial environment created by the Howard government’s new IR changes has provided an opportunity for the Iemma government to show another side to nurses, besides being an employer.

Many workers, rightly, believe that the Labor Party and Labor governments should, as a priority, stand up for workers’ rights. Too many times in the past they have been left disappointed.

The Iemma government has made a serious intervention to champion the rights of NSW public sector workers including nurses. It is a politically massive move and its significance should be acknowledged. They are to be congratulated for it.

It would be wrong, however, for public hospital nurses to think that is the end of the matter and they are now safe in some sort of bubble.

The state Opposition is steadfast in its commitment to move all NSW workers on to federal agreements and exposing them to the excesses of the federal government’s changes.

And senior members of the Howard government have been apologising to business leaders behind closed doors for not going far enough with the changes (see story page 18).

This means there is no room for complacency. A change of government at the state level will mean this protection will disappear.

Affiliated hospitals still need some convincing

There are still about 2000 nurses employed in hospitals known as ‘affiliated health organisations’ who will not be automatically protected unless the Boards of these facilities decide to transfer their workers’ employment to the ‘service of the Crown’.

St Vincent’s hospital is the largest of these hospitals and is strongly resisting this move.

The NSWNA is working cooperatively with other health unions to encourage St Vincent’s and the other ‘Schedule 3’ hospitals that they should follow the government’s lead and protect nurses’ conditions and rights by remaining in the fairer NSW system.

A good outcome for private hospital nurses

There is good news in another sector, too. After extensive negotiations with the major private hospital employers and representatives, we’ve achieved significant and valuable outcomes which over the lifetime of new Enterprise Agreements will bring private hospital nurses’ pay into line with the public health system’s rates of pay.

It’s significant that only Healthscope, and to a lesser extent, Ramsay, have at this point in time, put a process for dealing with workload issues in writing. The other employers flatly refuse to even discuss this important issue.

Nurses will now have no alternative but to pursue reasonable workloads issues via the more cumbersome use of OHS laws and regulations.

It is unconscionable that these employers insist on nurses having to establish injury damage or prove unsafeness before acting.

They should accept that the proactive approach of discussion between management and employees through workloads committees is the way forward to resolve these issues.